What the new high school graduation and readiness rates really tell us

The new Unbridled Learning release includes the Kentucky Department of Education’s new graduation and college and/or career readiness numbers. Our regular readers know we’ve been critical of those high school graduation and college and/or career readiness rates for some time. Very simply, there is compelling evidence that both rates are inflated, though in different ways.

This blog will check that out. Basically, we show that the effective high school graduation rate for Kentucky in 2015 is less than 60 percent, which means somewhere on the order of 21,266 kids who should have graduated in 2015 either dropped out of school first or only received a hollow piece of paper at their commencement.

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New EXPLORE and PLAN achievement gaps grow in Kentucky

Common Core’s dream collapsing for minorities

After an initial delay, the Kentucky Department of Education posted the latest scores for the EXPLORE and PLAN college readiness tests for Kentucky’s statewide eighth grade testing from the 2014-2015 school term this morning.

Sadly, the picture for the white minus black achievement gaps is uniformly unfavorable for all subjects on both tests, as Table 1 shows.

Table 1
EXPLORE and PLAN Gaps Table 2012 to 2015

Here is what the table shows. The 2012 Kentucky School Report Card for the state (get that here) shows for 2011-12 that 63.9 percent of the eighth grade whites in Kentucky scored at or above the EXPLORE English Benchmark Score that showed they were on track for college in this subject. That same year, only 39.3 percent of the blacks were on track. The difference – the gap – is 24.6 points as shown in the table under the English column for the EXPLORE Gap 2012 line (note, to reduce table clutter, all dates are listed by the end year of each school term). Similar calculations were made from the EXPLORE data pages in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Kentucky School Report Cards (available here). An identical process was used to calculate the PLAN information.

Sadly, as emphasized by the red typeface for all the numbers in the rows that show the gap changes between 2012 and 2015, IN EVERY SINGLE CASE, THE WHITE MINUS BLACK ACHIEVEMENT GAPS FOR BOTH EXPLORE AND PLAN HAVE INCREASED SINCE KENTUCKY ADOPTED COMMON CORE ALIGNED STATE TESTS IN THE 2011-12 SCHOOL YEAR. We obviously want the white minus black achievement gaps to be reduced, so a trend of increasing gaps is clearly very bad.

It gets worse. The latest Benchmark performances for Kentucky’s black community are simply depressing, as Table 2 shows.

Table 2
Percent of Blacks Meeting EXPLORE and PLAN in 2012 and 2015

Except for PLAN math and science there has been no improvement, and in most cases DECAY in black scores over the period from 2012 to 2015. And, given the deplorable scores for PLAN math and reading, the very small improvements are completely inadequate, as well.

EXPLORE and PLAN show Kentucky is grossly leaving its major minority population behind and the situation is generally worse now than when Common Core started.

After 25 years of expensive education reform efforts in Kentucky, only around one in ten black students is getting the math education needed, and only about one in five is getting the even more critical reading skills that are essential for almost any career today. These numbers are a disgrace.

Furthermore, this new evidence fits well with an existing body of education research that says disadvantaged student populations need more direct instructional approaches than the highly student-centered approaches favored in the Common Core based curriculum. I want to emphasize that this isn’t a new message, but the new data does add current evidence that education ideologues in the Kentucky Department of Education seem unwilling or unable to understand – their blindly favored Progressive Education approaches just don’t work well for minority students. I don’t know how we change their mired-in-cement mindsets, but we need to do something more effective for our kids.

It is way past time for Kentucky to meet its obligations to its minority students by opening up more education options for them such as charter schools. The new EXPLORE and PLAN results argue rather strongly that Kentucky’s public education system is not pursuing productive paths to reduce the achievement gaps. The state’s choice to use Common Core State Standards, which impact the English, math and reading results discussed in this blog, is not working well for Kentucky’s black students, either. Thus, after 25 years of KERA, blacks are being left further behind.

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Is Unbridled Learning turning into Unbridled Instability?

Not good news for Common Core

The new 2015 Unbridled Learning public school accountability results are now out for Kentucky, and the first thing I looked at turned out to be something of a surprise. Here is what I found when I looked at how the trends for eighth grade math and reading from Unbridled Learning’s Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) tests compared to the results from the ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE tests. EXPLORE is a well-established college readiness test also administered to all public school students in Kentucky.

This first graph shows the results for reading. It compares the percentage of students who scored at or above EXPLORE’s Reading Benchmark Score to the percentage of students who scored proficient or above on the KPREP. Reaching the EXPLORE Benchmark Score indicates students are on track as of the eighth grade for college

KPREP to EXPLORE Reading 2015

As you can see, the scores for EXPLORE reading took a rather notable downward turn for Kentucky’s eight grade students in the 2014-15 school term. However, the KPREP reading took a notable upward tick. As a consequence, the disagreement in these two assessments for reading is now nearly three times larger than it was when KPREP testing started. The KPREP scores are now 14 points higher than the EXPLORE scores although the difference when the KPREP started in 2011-12 was only five points.

There is a serious indication here that the KPREP reading results are becoming very notably inflated, at least for the eighth grade. This is exactly the sort of problem that destroyed credibility of the earlier KIRIS and CATS-era Kentucky Core Content Tests that KPREP replaced.

Something different has happened with the math results, as this second graph shows.

KPREP to EXPLORE Math 2015

The rather sharp drop in math performance in 2014-15 on EXPLORE was matched somewhat by a very small decay in KPREP math, as well.

This is not good news for Common Core. On both of the math tests, the declines in performance in 2014-15 present a notable warning that Common Core aligned math isn’t working well for Kentucky’s top middle school grade.

Furthermore, the 12-point difference in performance on the KPREP versus the EXPLORE indicates that the KPREP scores are also somewhat inflated. That translates to thousands more Kentucky students who KPREP says are on track that really are not.

These developments have some important implications.

For one thing, the evidence from the EXPLORE is clear in both math and reading. Despite all the great things Kentucky has been told about Common Core State Standards, which cover both math and English language arts, in both subjects Kentucky’s eighth grade performance is decayed from where it was in 2013 and in reading that decay extends back to 2011-12.

Regarding KPREP reading, the EXPLORE’s now sharply diverging trend creates very serious concern that the apparent small improvement on KPREP is due to scoring inflation, not a real increase in performance.

Regarding KPREP math, the trend more closely matches EXPLORE although the KPREP scores are still notably inflated by comparison. This consistent story of stagnation or decline in math serves a strong warning that Common Core aligned math is faltering in Kentucky.

I’ll be looking at more KPREP results in the next few days, so stay tuned.

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The dangers of schools collecting student data come home to roost in Oldham County, Kentucky

The Courier-Journal reports that there has been a potentially significant data breach in the North Oldham County High School that exposed thousands of present and former students to possible identity theft.

A school cafeteria computer housing student names, social security numbers, addresses, telephone numbers and birth dates was hacked and this sensitive information could have been compromised. Adding even more concern – there is uncertainty about whether or not the data actually was compromised.

This real world example is bound to add more concern on the part of parents already worried about schools collecting a large amount of sensitive data about their children, and the parents too. This data is being shared with other agencies and even with private research firms, as well. The data is only as safe as the weakest link in this ever-growing chain of computers. Apparently, one of those weakest links lives in Oldham County Public Schools.

The Courier’s article contains information about actions that can be taken if your identity information is at risk. Oldham County Schools should be contacting you if your data is at risk, but it might pay to check with them if you or one of your children attended North Oldham High in recent years.

Innes on Mandy Connell — Now at 7:05 pm!

840whas_weblogo_0_1422872348Forget the earlier blog today.

BIPPS’ Richard Innes will now talk education with Mandy Connell tonight at 7:05 PM Eastern time tonight. Tune in to WHAS radio 840 to hear the show.

Bluegrass Beacon: Nullification, anyone?

BluegrassBeaconLogoIt’s appropriate that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ personal act of nullification in the form of refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples occurred in the state that passed the most-adamant resolution in American history supporting invalidation of the federal government’s attempts to assume powers not granted it by the Constitution.

The Kentucky Resolution penned in 1798 by founding giant Thomas Jefferson was a response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which created  unconstitutional hardships for legal immigrants and made it a crime to “print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the federal government.

Those who hold the dangerous view that no legitimate cause for concern exists about an overreaching federal judiciary into our states or individual lives – and who want you to believe nothing could be done about it anyhow – often take that position because it best suits their personal political or cultural agenda.

Such thinking led to implementation of the Alien and Sedition Acts as the U.S. approached the brink of war with France during John Adams’ presidency.

The Federalists, Adams’ political party, wanted to quell criticism of the president’s policies by the Democratic-Republicans – the other major political party – while fearing immigrants living in the U.S. might side with France.

These trepidations resulted in the Acts being used exclusively against Americans associated with the Democratic-Republicans. The only journalists prosecuted under the Sedition Act, for example, were editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers.

It’s not unlike what’s currently happening in the culture war.

Critics of clerk Davis vociferously defend Federal Judge David Bunning for jailing her for refusing to acquiesce to a U.S. Supreme Court opinion disallowing gay-marriage bans – including the prohibition against such unions placed in the Kentucky Constitution by 75 percent of voters barely a decade ago.

“She broke the law,” they screech.

Yet these same zealots were previously silent while elected officials like former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome unlawfully issued gay-marriage licenses long before the practice was legalized.

Newsome gets a pass because his views were politically correct – if not lawful – ones.

Our founders surely didn’t intend for five unelected Supreme Court jurists to nullify the wishes of 1.2 million Kentuckians by overriding this commonwealth’s Constitution.

“The Constitution has erected no such tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruption of time and party, its members would become despots,” Jefferson wrote.

Even Kentucky native and wartime President Abraham Lincoln – who once suspended habeas corpus – warned of the consequences of surrendering power to the Supreme Court.

“If the policy of government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court… the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having, to that extent, practically resigned their government into the hands of the eminent tribunal,” Lincoln said.

Jefferson also adamantly warned against the dangers of allowing the judiciary to usurp unjustified authority.

“To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy,” he penned.

The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which supporters of Bunning’s misguided decision will note, allows federal laws to trump state laws – but only if Congress is acting within its constitutionally authorized powers.

Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution empower federal courts to change marriage or discard a state’s Constitution and unilaterally enact opposing legislation.

At the very least, Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, upon which the Supreme Court’s majority based its gay-marriage opinion, gives Congress the “power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

Until Congress or the Kentucky General Assembly acts, any constitutionally honest person must acknowledge that Davis acted in accordance with our commonwealth’s Constitution – unless we’re going to allow five unelected, unaccountable jurists in funny looking black robes to trash our guiding document on a cultural whim.

In which case, the Kentucky Constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

This is precisely the type of situation for which nullification – as expressed in the Kentucky Resolution – was created.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

On the air September 28: Another ‘Bluegrass Monday’ with Mandy Connell on 840 WHAS

840whas_weblogo_0_1422872348Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst, Richard Innes, guest subs for Jim Waters on Bluegrass Mondays @ 7:05 p.m. on Louisville’s NewsRadio 840 WHAS-AM with popular talk-show host Mandy Connell.

Open Meetings violations, scrambled statistics and scary social studies, Oh My!

Mandy and Dick will talk some hot education topics you’re not hearing about anywhere else.

Find out why former Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday was looking over his shoulder for BIPPS as he headed out of Kentucky.

Check out who is mixing their apples and oranges with important education statistics.

Discover which wars someone thinks your kids don’t need to learn about in school.

Join us Monday!

Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting: Pension investment expenses sky-high

250px-FutureShockSquareWell, now here’s a real shocker about Kentucky’s pension-investment expenses: “Kentucky’s pension plan for public employees says that its annual investment expenses are running 75 percent higher than reported in previous years,” reports the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Included in the report is analysis by former KRS trustee Chris Tobe, who, as reporter James McNair reports: “KRS has squandered pensionholders’ money by paying high fees for riskier investments with lower returns than unmanaged stock market index funds,” and that “KRS’ investment underperformance of the last five years comes to about $1.5 billion, a third of which stems from hidden fees.”

Public retirees and state workers should be very concerned that so many dollars in the troubled Kentucky Retirement Systems are being sucked up just in spending related to investing their retirement dollars.


Ohio and Washington State shredding cross-state Common Core test comparability

Education Week reports in “One Set of PARCC Test Results, Two Different Descriptions in Ohio” that Ohio’s state education department just decided to use its own scoring scale on the Common Core aligned PARCC tests. The impact will be enormous. EdWeek says that in Ohio:

“…on the 4th grade English/language arts exam in PARCC, only 37 percent of students met or exceeded PARCC’s expectations for performance on the exam. Yet Ohio will report that 69 percent of students were proficient or better on the test.”

That gross inflation is going to make a lot of parents in Ohio feel good. However, this decimates a major Common Core selling point that using common national standards would lead to each state’s own assessments producing scores that could be directly compared to the other states’ assessment results.

Ohio’s action makes it abundantly clear that this Common Core promise is on the rocks, but Ohio isn’t the only state monkeying with supposedly common testing from Common Core. Washington State, which is a member of the other new Common Core test consortium, the SBAC, says it won’t use the SBAC’s own grading scales to determine who graduates from high school, either.

Supposedly common tests with uncommon scoring — it’s a major Common Core fail!

Bluegrass Beacon: Gubernatorial candidate spot-on about Head Start

BluegrassBeaconLogoCritics of GOP gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin want to use his spot-on statement about a huge, costly and ineffective government-run preschool program to paint him as being opposed to any and all early childhood education.

Bevin pointed out on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” during this year’s primary campaign that Head Start – the nation’s largest taxpayer-funded preschool program – “is not working the way we’re doing it.”

That got translated by his detractors – both in the political arena and among some media outlets – as: “Matt Bevin is opposed to early childhood education.”

Questioning the effectiveness of a program for which American taxpayers shell out $8 billion annually doesn’t automatically stretch into opposition to early childhood education in general.

However, this tactic does illustrate a strategy often employed by progressives – and not just with political candidates.

If, for example, you support giving parents more choices for their children beyond a traditional public school, don’t be surprised if you’re branded: “out to destroy public education.”

Such labeling – intended to protect the status quo and misrepresent new ideas – isn’t limited to education policy.

Those who support giving individual workers the option of choosing whether labor-union membership is best for them are “union busters.”

Those who question the Environmental Protection Agency’s moronic regulations are “for dirty air and contaminated water.”

But what, I wonder, do these critics label those researchers who produce myriad reports indicating that – as Bevin noted – “third grade and above, there is no measurable difference between a child who came through Head Start and a child that did not?”

His is the same conclusion reached by the other side of the political aisle in a 2012 study by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The Hechinger Report – by no means a right-wing project – notes that only one of 90 different studies examining the effectiveness of the Head Start program met acceptable research standards for scientific rigor.

That study, Hechinger notes – using work done by the technically oriented What Works Clearinghouse – “showed rather disappointing results. It found that Head Start had ‘potentially positive effects’ on general reading achievement and ‘no discernible effects’ on mathematics and social-emotional development for 3-year-old and 4-year-old children.”

At the very least, this is thin evidence to blindly support a huge investment like the $8 billion made annually in Head Start.

We’ve heard lots of clamoring from Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration about expanding state spending on its preschool programs. Yet even within Kentucky’s borders, there’s reasonable doubt about whether sufficient bang is produced for all of those early childhood bucks.

A stir was generated by a report presented to the Kentucky Board of Education in 2012 showing only 25 percent of the state’s entering kindergartners are ready for school.

Those results were based on preliminary data from a pilot project that tested 34,500 – or about two-thirds of children entering kindergarten.

While the report didn’t indicate precisely what proportion of the unprepared students were in early childhood programs, it’s a pretty good bet many were considering around 30,000 children across the commonwealth attend preschool.

It’s not a coincidence that many of those who both attack Bevin and advocate for bigger government early childhood educational programs are adamantly opposed to giving Kentucky parents school choice.

In fact, school-choice opponents’ strategy is one of distraction by making the discussion about Head Start’s funding – or some other financial issue – rather than the educational performance of all children.

“Every single metric that has ever looked at it, including those done by the government itself in order to justify it and those looking at it from the outside trying to justify why it doesn’t work, everyone has come to the same conclusion – that third grade and above, there is no measurable difference between a child who came through Head Start and a child that did not,” Bevin said.

Let me know if you find a single credible study in this entire nation that disagrees.

I’m waiting …

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.